What Is SMS? (+How SMS Can Help Your Business)

Matt Baglia
Matt Baglia  |  November 21, 2018

Have you ever come across the abbreviation SMS and wondered, “How could this possibly help me with my business?”

If you’ve read about any recent digital trends, you’ve probably seen the abbreviation SMS more than once and have some questions about what it is and how you can use it to gain a business advantage.

Here’s everything you need to know about what SMS is and how to apply it to your marketing plan.

What is SMS?

Before we get any further, let’s unpack the acronym. SMS stands for "short message service." Basically, it's a fancy way of saying text message.

An average layman might refer to many different messages as “texts,” but, technically speaking, an SMS message only contains text and no pictures or videos.

SMS technology is global. You can send an SMS message on any network around the world.

How SMS messaging can help your business

We’re going to focus on this more in depth when we get to SMS marketing, but, for now, here are some helpful aspects of SMS that you should know:

  • SMS is a powerful tool for creating buzz and bringing customers into your brand ecosystem. Sending personalized special offers through SMS can drive engagement.
  • The open rates are at 99 percent. That means virtually everyone who receives a text opens it.
  • Marketing-related texts are always opt-in, meaning you can’t send unsolicited messages. Everyone who’s on your SMS list wants to hear from you — which could be part of the reason why click-through rates on SMS messages are around 36 percent.

It’s one thing to know these statistics, but understanding how to apply them requires learning more on the art of mass text messaging. You can learn a lot by reviewing examples of previously successful SMS marketing campaigns.  

SMS vs MMS

Now that you know what SMS is, it’s time to add another acronym to your arsenal — MMS. This stands for "multimedia messaging service. Think of an MMS as an SMS with rich media. With MMS, you can send video, photos, GIFs, and even audio. In layman’s terms, if someone, “Texts you a photo,” or, “Texts you a video,” they’re actually sending you an MMS.

Benefits of MMS

MMS allows businesses to appeal to more visual consumers by sending coupons and graphically designed promotional material straight to mobile devices. MMS messages also have a much higher character limit – 1,600 characters. However, be careful, not all customers have an unlimited MMS messaging plans like with SMS. This could cause some potential roadblocks if your target audience is a bit older or has tighter budgets.

SMS trends you should know about

Because people are almost always on their phones, SMS is becoming an increasingly powerful way to communicate between companies and customers. Here are two major SMS trends for you to stay on top of.

1. SMS vs email

Once you start pulling back the covers on SMS mass communication, you might start to see that, depending on which demographic you’re working with, SMS is now the go-to form of communication. Millennials, for example, love to text – they even use text in professional situations.

The propensity for texting is definitely not slowing down either. A 2015 Pew Research study found 73 percent of teens ages 13-to-17 have a smartphone, and 58 percent of them say texting is the primary way they communicate with their closest friends.

So, with all the focus on texting, is email on the way out?

Not quite. Email’s still an effective communication tool, but the best brands are using both, in tandem, to drive conversions.

  • SMS mass communications can drive email opt-ins. SMS is a proven tool for getting your audience to take action by clicking through. You can capture email addresses and create another method for staying in touch if they opt-in to your email list through text. Think about your brand as a universe and SMS messaging and email as ways to include people in it.
  • Email allows for longer communication. SMS messages are short and sweet. The goal is to get to the point quickly and be exclusive about when and how you send SMS messages. For longer brand marketing messages and updates, email could be a more comprehensive tool.

2. RCS messaging

You might have heard of a new kid on the block when it comes to mass communication — RCS messaging. This newest trend is like a modernized version of SMS messaging. When you think about it, SMS messaging hasn’t changed much since it was created, even though smartphones have drastically altered how we interact with each other and the world around us.

RCS (rich communications services) messaging is poised to bring a huge update to how we communicate. It incorporates features such as read receipts, group messaging, and multimedia. It’s like the evolution of SMS. RCS uses popular features that smartphone users have come to expect on apps like Facebook Messenger, iMessage, and WeChat.

Here are some anticipated differences between RCS and SMS:

  • The ability to send read receipts.
  • The ability to see when others in the conversation are typing.  
  • Files can be sent directly through RCS. This means PDFs, like tickets, invoices, and requisitions, can be “texted,” rather than emailed.
  • There won’t be a character limit like there currently is with SMS or MMS messaging.

Up until now, there has been difficulty getting mobile operators around the world on the same page when it comes to RCS. However, the GSM Association — the trade body that represents mobile operators — agreed in 2016 to what’s known as the, “Universal Profile,” that will help increase global adoption of RCS. There are currently more than 60 organizations that support the RCS protocol.

How to incorporate SMS marketing

Knowing all about text messaging and understanding how to apply SMS marketing to your business goals are two different matters. Right now, you probably understand a lot about why SMS messaging is so important, but are a little lost about how to get started with it.

Here are five tips to get you started with SMS marketing.

1. Partner with a text marketing leader

There are companies that devote their entire focuses to helping marketers and business leaders understand and use text marketing. If you’re new to SMS marketing, start off on the right foot by finding a company that will guide you. What you should look for when you’re searching for the right fit is a company with an easy-to-use platform, responsive customer support, and a lot of great ideas on how to create an SMS marketing campaign that will work for you.

Additionally, it’s imperative that whoever you choose will educate you on all of the best practices for SMS marketing. There are a lot of places out there that offer a combination of these elements. So, do your research and find the best fit for you.

2. Experiment with sending coupons

One of the most common ways to use mass text messaging is to send a mobile coupon.

You might be astonished to find how well coupons can help drive traffic to your store. By offering a time-sensitive promotion, you not only get buyers in-store, but entice them to make a purchase decision.

Remember, it’s not just about text. Use an MMS message to send an image to motivate the visually minded customers in your audience as well.

3. Run a contest

If you’re just starting your SMS list, you’ll probably need to put some effort into growing it. One of the simplest ways to do this is to run a text-to-win contest.

Find a special grand prize that will truly get new subscribers to opt-in with a simple text. You’ll most likely see a rapid growth in your list by using this method.

4. Set up an auto-reply

Add value to your experience right away for your customers by setting up an auto-reply that gets them excited about being on your list.

An auto-reply is a way of letting customers know their opt-in worked and establishing a powerful connection. Consider offering a freebie or discount for showing the text at the time of their next purchase.

5. Review your ROI and keep experimenting

Whenever you try a new mass text messaging campaign, you’ll want to make sure you’re paying close attention to your return on investment (ROI).

Don’t make the mistake of throwing money into SMS marketing without checking to see how well it works compared to other forms of communication. You might be surprised that it actually works better than some of your other strategies — but you’ll never know unless you measure it.

Stay current with SMS best practices to gain an edge

Mobile usage is more prominent than ever, and businesses are increasingly finding that the quick, personal communication that SMS messaging offers is beneficial to their marketing efforts.

Now that you know the basics of SMS, make sure to stay up-to-date as trends emerge so you can use it to grow your business.

Ready to take the SMS leap? Learn how SMS marketing software can help your team execute text-message marketing strategies.

Matt Baglia
Author

Matt Baglia

Matt Balia is the CEO at SlickText.com.